Following Bashar al-Asad's assumption of the office of president of the Syrian Arab Republic in July 2000, there
were some promising signs of improvement of the country's human rights record. About 600 political prisoners
were released, and the first privately owned newspaper since 1963 was licensed. Independent civic forums
emerged and began to function freely. These increasingly popular groups circulated petitions, conducted open
meetings, and presented agendas for political reform, while pro-democracy advocates began preparations to
launch independent political parties.